Ceiling Fans: Keep Your Cool; Save Money, Too

A ceiling fan doesn’t actually cool a room, but it does make you feel cooler because of the slight wind chill on your skin. That means you can raise the thermostat and feel just as comfortable.

Switching out an existing overhead light fixture for a ceiling fan is a fairly simple project that a handy DIYer can do in a couple of hours.

Keep house cool at low cost

Ceiling fans use just slightly more energy than a 100-watt light bulb, and new Energy Star-rated fans use about half that–saving you up to $165 in energy costs over the life of the fan. For every degree you raise the air conditioning thermostat above 78 degrees, you can save 3% to 8% on cooling costs.

Size does matter

With any ceiling fan, the goal is to move more air—measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM)—with less effort, or fewer revolutions per minute. For example, a fan that’s 36 to 42 inches in diameter might have a top speed of 300 rpm; a 52-inch fan moves the same amount of air at 220 rpm.

Size matters more than the number of blades. Go for the biggest fan that will fit the space. Putting in a dinky fan to make it appear inconspicuous often has the opposite effect–and is a missed opportunity for cooling comfort.

Here are general size guidelines from the American Lighting Association:

Room Size Fan Size
Up to 75 square feet 36” or smaller
Up to 144 square feet 36” to 42”
Up to 224 square feet 50” to 54”

What price comfort?

Prices for ceiling fans range widely, from $20 to $100 for basic, two-switch varieties, to $3,000 and up to $12,000 (yes, really) for entire fan systems consisting of several high-end fans integrated into an architectural design.

However, most folks will be happy in the $200 to $600 range, which gets you a better-designed machine and warranty. Extras, such as designer shades, polycarbonate blades, and special finishes for woods and metal, can tack on a few hundred dollars.

What to look for

  • Blade pitch. The wider the blade (5 inches is good) and the higher their angle–called “pitch”–the more air gets moved. Higher-end fans have a blade pitch of 12 to 14 degrees.
  • Blade finish. Make sure the factory has treated the blades with a moisture sealant to prevent wooden blades from warping and peeling, and metal blades from scratching and tarnishing.
  • Motor quality. Better fans come with motors that have sealed and lubricated ball bearings, which require little maintenance, if any. More expensive models feature heavy-duty windings, precision engineering bearings, and die-cast housings, which vibrate less and are good-looking.
  • Energy Star-rated fans. To qualify, fans must have a minimum airflow of 1,250 CFM on low speed and 5,000 CFM on high speed. They must come with a minimum 30-year motor warranty; one-year component(s) warranty; and 2-year light kits warranty. Energy Star-rated fans are 50% more efficient than conventional ones.

Fans to be used outdoors or in high-humidity areas such as bathrooms or laundry rooms must be damp-rated or wet-rated.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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